Amazon rainforest or cloud forest? Tips on choosing the right trip
Some people want monkeys but not insects, some can’t stand the heat but want to see bears. Others want to walk through lush forest.
If you’re unsure which is best for you, Andean Trails' Tom offers some top tips to help you find your own answer to this commonly asked question.
Cloud forest: A birder’s paradise as the changes in elevation and plants bring different, specialist feeders, especially good for hummingbirds. There are big animals here, too, although they are hard to spot – bears, jaguars, pumas and tapirs roam – and you’ll probably see a tarantula or two. Monkeys also range, as well as snakes.
Amazon: Monkeys, tropical birds, caiman – Amazon’s animals are big and impressive. The wide rivers offer great viewpoints to spot jaguars, capybaras, birds and even anacondas. Some of the caterpillars, centipedes, moths and butterflies have to be seen to be believed. Night walks and caiman spotting highly recommended.
The wildlife that you do see will be dependent on what the forest decides to throw at you on the day - it can be quite capricious.
Malaria and yellow fever
Cloud forest: Mosquitos around but most lodges not in malaria/yellow fever areas so pills/inoculations not needed. Always check with your doctor for the latest advice.
Amazon: Mosquitos around and you will need a yellow fever certificate to visit most lodges, plus a course of malaria pills to help prevent catching the disease.
Cloud forest: Birding, hiking, wildlife watching, botanical talks, sometimes farming/cultivation/local history. There are often hammocks for relaxing / listening to the forest.
Amazon: Wildlife watching, birding, night safaris, interaction with indigenous communities and hearing their histories, canopy walkways. Some lodges now offer biking, kayaking and more active trips, as well as trips aimed at young children and/or teenagers and families. Midday is very hot, so lots of time to relax in hammocks, listening to the sounds of the forest.
Cloud forest: Dorms and private cabins usually available, with shared or private bathrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers. Often no need to sleep in nets as most areas malaria free. Meals eaten in a general dining room and lodge often have wildlife watching points dotted around the.
Amazon: Private cabins and bathrooms with flush toilets and showers that normally dispense room temperature water because the Amazon is so hot. A few lodges also offer camping in large tents on wooden platforms. Sleeping mosquito nets as malaria present, and more likely to get a few insects in your cabin.
Cloud forest: Often incredibly varied micro-climates that are fascinating to experience. Cloud forest plants and trees change with the elevations, whether the mountains are east or west facing and temperatures. It’s not as dense as the Amazon and you’ll get some views over canopies / mountains and see waterfalls, as well as an enormous range of flowers.
Amazon: Very dense vegetation, views over the forest have to be obtained from climbing canopy towers. Most lodges in primary rainforest have many plants on show but they don’t change overly as the terrain is similar. See everything from enormous, towering trees to tiny flowers and prehistoric looking plants bigger than humans. Other worldly.
Cloud forest: Can be anything from warm sunshine to rain but you’ll probably see, as the name suggests, some cloud at some point. These changes are what make the areas so fertile. Can be cold at night, and feel a bit damp.
Amazon: In contrast, the Amazon is almost always hot, very humid and for some, oppressive. There can be rain – often heavy – as well as spectacular electrical storms, particularly in the afternoon/night when all the moisture has risen during the steamy day.
Cloud forest: Often only an hour or two of driving from main cities. Transport is often in 4x4, and you can often go to and from lodges directly from the airport.
Amazon: Most lodges involve a short 30-50 minute flight and then a 2-4 hour ride in a motorised boat upstream. Some have an extra canoe ride, 10-30 minutes, to get to remote oxbow lakes.
Cloud forest: Can range from 1,000m (3,300ft) to 3,000m (9,900ft). Most lodges don’t require you to acclimatise before visiting, but some may leave you a little breathless on higher walks if arriving from sea level.
Amazon: The big Amazon basin is rarely more than a few hundred metres above sea level. If you are high altitude trekking and split trips with a trip to the Amazon, be aware that you will lose some acclimatisation while in the Amazon.
Cloud forest: Great for those that like to hike, some lodges offer guided and self-guided walks of many lengths, suitable for those who potter and those who want to wander. The cooler weather and chance to take a dip in streams and waterfalls also makes these ideal for active walkers.
Amazon: Because the forests are protected, you won’t be hacking your way through dense jungle with a machete - walks are guided and 3-7km in length(1-2 hours) with many stops to look for wildlife/talk about medicinal plants. It’s easy to get lost in the forest so there’s no wandering off on your own, and the heat means longer hikes are not possible.
Cloud forest: You’ll be up and down hills and valleys in the cloud forest as most hug the sides of mountains. Paths are generally quite good but can get muddy.
Amazon: Mainly flat, you stick to set paths as it’s very easy to get lost in the Amazon. Can be very muddy/clay-like after rains, and some boat/canoe journeys needed to spot wildlife.
Dress code on a typical day
Cloud forest: Set to trek! Trekking boots, trousers rather than shorts to prevent bites, long-sleeved shirts and a hat, plus binoculars and a rain jacket. Lots of lodges provide rubber boots when it rains.
Amazon: Rubber boots provided by the lodge (to prevent bites), trekking trousers, long-sleeved and dark coloured t-shirts, insect repellent, hat, sun cream and a rain jacket.
Cloud forest: Generally cheaper because they are less remote than Amazon lodges, and often able to offer more comfort / flexibility.
Amazon: One of South America’s more expensive trips, you need to pay more to get into primary rainforest.
For inspirational photos of the Amazon on facebook check out Margaret Jarvis' photos from the Tambopata in Peru, Tom Sheraman's photos from Chalalan in Bolvia, or Kat Dougal's photos of Guyana and Suriname.
Contact us at Andean Trails for more information.